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Bacterial Endocarditis

Bacterial Endocarditis

Bacterial endocarditis is a potentially life-threatening infection that must be treated quickly if complications are to be avoided.

If you or your loved one has suffered harm because doctors failed to manage bacterial endocarditis properly, you could be entitled to pursue a medical negligence compensation claim.

To talk to a solicitor about claiming compensation for bacterial endocarditis, please get in touch with us today. We specialise in clinical negligence claims and will be able to help you further.

What is bacterial endocarditis?

Bacterial endocarditis is a bacterial infection that affects the endocardium. The endocardium is part of the heart more specifically, it is the tissue which lines the inside of the heart chambers.

For bacterial endocarditis to develop, it is necessary for bacteria to find their way into the bloodstream. Bacteria do not naturally occur in the bloodstream but may get into the blood from an infection elsewhere in the body.

Once bacteria reach the bloodstream, the immune system will try to kill the infection. Nevertheless, this response may not be effective in every case. If the bacteria do survive, they will travel to the heart in the bloodstream, finding their way to the endocardium.

Once the endocardium becomes infected with bacteria, the patient is said to have bacterial endocarditis. If bacterial endocarditis is not treated, the bacteria can settle on the heart valves. The bacteria will clump together, forming a small mass called a vegetation. This can make it difficult for the heart valve to work properly, and can damage the valves on a long-term basis.

Who does bacterial endocarditis affect?

Bacterial endocarditis is a rare condition. It affects around 20 per one million people in the UK every year. Theoretically anyone can get bacterial endocarditis; all it takes is for some bacteria to get into the bloodstream and travel to the heart.

However, there are some factors that increase the risk of bacterial endocarditis. These include:

  • Damaged or problematic heart valves
  • Artificial heart valve
  • Surgery involving the heart valve(s)
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Drug abuse
  • Auto-immune diseases
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • History of bacterial endocarditis

Symptoms of bacterial endocarditis

Bacterial endocarditis can either develop very suddenly or very gradually. The symptoms will be the same in each, but they may appear within a matter of days or they may develop over the course of weeks or months.

The symptoms of bacterial endocarditis include the following:

  • Fever, with a high temperature, night sweats and chills
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Tiredness
  • Aches and pain in muscles and joints
  • Heart murmurs

As bacterial endocarditis continues other symptoms can also appear, such as:

  • Spotty red rash on the skin
  • Blood underneath fingernails and toenails
  • Painful lumps on fingers and toes
  • Painful spots on the palms of hand and soles of feet
  • Confusion

Diagnosing bacterial endocarditis

The symptoms of bacterial endocarditis are very similar to other heart conditions, so it is important that doctors carry out a number of tests to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

A diagnosis will begin by taking a complete history of symptoms and recent illnesses or procedures that could increase the risk of bacterial endocarditis for example, heart valve surgery.

Next a doctor should complete a thorough examination to look for any physical signs that indicate the presence of bacterial endocarditis. This must include listening to the patient's heart with a stethoscope to check for a heart murmur. A doctor should also check for a fever by taking the patient's temperature, and check the skin/hands/feet for a rash or lumps.

To verify a diagnosis of bacterial endocarditis, tests should be carried out, including a blood test and an echocardiogram. A blood test will show the presence of an infection, while an echocardiogram will detect clumps of bacteria that have formed inside the heart.

Some patients may also be sent for a CT scan which will produce images revealing any abnormalities in the heart.

Treating bacterial endocarditis

Most people with bacterial endocarditis can be successfully treated with antibiotics alone. Even so, it is likely that the patient will need to be admitted to hospital so the antibiotics can be administered intravenously. Doctors will need to take blood samples during treatment to ensure the antibiotics are working effectively. Indeed, some bacteria have become resistant to certain medication, while in severe cases a mix of antibiotics might be needed.

Around 15 to 20% of patients with bacterial endocarditis will require surgery. This is because bacterial endocarditis can cause significant heart damage which will have to be repaired. If surgery is necessary, it normally means the individual in question is very unwell. Consequently the patient may not make it through surgery, with around one in 10 people dying during bacterial endocarditis surgery.

Surviving bacterial endocarditis

As long as bacterial endocarditis is treated in the early stages, the patient has a good chance of making a full recovery. It should also be possible to successfully treat the condition with antibiotics alone, rather than with invasive surgery.

However, if bacterial endocarditis is left to develop to the advanced stages, serious complications can arise. These can be life-threatening.

Bacterial endocarditis complications

If bacterial endocarditis is not treated quickly enough, complications will develop, putting the patient in grave danger. This can include:

  • Heart failure
  • Blood clots
  • Abscess or fistula in the heart
  • Stroke
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Widespread infection

Failure to diagnose and treat bacterial endocarditis

If complications do occur because doctors fail to diagnose and treat bacterial endocarditis in a timely manner, there may be a case of medical negligence. This is because the patient will have experienced unnecessary pain and suffering as a result of medical incompetence.

To find out more about medical negligence claims, you need to talk to a solicitor who works in this area of the law. Whether the claim relates to you or your loved one, a solicitor will be able to advise you on your legal rights, saying if you have the grounds to pursue a claim.

Contact us today

To speak to a solicitor about bacterial endocarditis medical negligence, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us today.

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